Political Animal


August 17, 2011 4:40 PM Becoming ‘the anti-science party’

By Steve Benen

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry believes the entirety of climate science is a conspiracy cooked up by greedy scientists. At least one of his rivals today had the nerve to call out Perry’s nonsense.

The campaign of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. seized on Perry’s comments to portray the Texas governor as outside the mainstream with his climate change views. Huntsman himself does believe in the science behind global warming.

“We’re not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party,” John Weaver, Huntsman’s chief strategist, said in an interview Wednesday. “The American people are looking for someone who lives in reality and is a truth teller because that’s the only way that the significant problems this country faces can be solved. It appears that the only science that Mitt Romney believes in is the science of polling, and that science clearly was not a mandatory course for Governor Perry.”

I give the Huntsman campaign a lot of credit for taking a reality-based position on this. In Republican circles, this isn’t a popular line to take — indeed, by criticizing Perry on an issue conservative feel strongly about, Huntsman’s team is only reinforcing why its campaign is likely doomed — which only makes this more admirable.

(I’d note for context that Huntsman believes the climate crisis is real, but doesn’t actually want to do anything about it, at least not anytime soon. That, obviously, isn’t admirable at all.)

But what struck me about this was Weaver’s line of criticism: Republicans, he said, shouldn’t “become the anti-science party.”

Um, John? I’m afraid it’s a little late for that.

The Republican hostility for science, scientists, the scientific method, scientific inquiry, and empirical research in general has already been solidified as part and parcel of the party’s identity. The GOP mainstream rejects scientific evidence on everything from global warming to stem-cell research to evolutionary biology to sex-ed — in part because they find reality inconvenient, and in part because, as David Brooks recently noted, many Republicans simply “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

In the Bush/Cheney era, there was an effective “war on science,” in which scientific research was either rejected or manipulated to suit political ends. The integrity of the scientific process itself came under attack, to the delight of the party and its base.

In the Obama era, this has only intensified. As Chris Mooney recently explained very well, “The science-based community once was split between Democrats and Republicans — but not anymore.”

Increasingly, the parties are divided over expertise — with much more of it residing among liberals and Democrats, and with liberals and Democrats much more aligned with the views of scientists and scholars. More fundamentally, the parties are increasingly divided over reality itself….

The expertise gap itself is becoming dramatic. In one of the most comprehensive surveys of American professors, sociologists Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons of George Mason found that 51 percent described themselves as Democrats, and 35.3 percent described themselves as independents — with the bulk of those independents distinctly Democrat-leaning, rather than straddling the center. Just 13.7 percent were Republicans. Academia has long been a liberal bastion, but it hasn’t always been this lopsided….

The Democratic Party has thus become the chosen party of what you might call “empirical professionals” and Americans with advanced degrees…. In recent decades, the Republican Party’s rightward shift alienated many academics, scientists, and intellectuals.

“We’re not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party”? John Weaver, that’s a battle you’ve already lost.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • DAY on August 17, 2011 4:48 PM:

    I also suspect that the few economic advisors they have are graduates of the Voodoo School of Economics, where they majored in the Interpretation of Sacrificial Entrails.

  • LL on August 17, 2011 4:51 PM:

    It's fascinating to me how the GOP ended up in this position. By pinning their hopes on deluded old people and angry white males, they are now so far right it's impossible to find them on a map. Even GPS won't help here.

    They'll possibly win a couple more national elections, by lying their asses off, as they have for decades. But this electoral strategy won't work forever. It might even fail in this decade. At what point does a total denial of reality (except insofar as it may benefit them personally) cause a total institutional breakdown? The GOP has become psychotic, in a way, and so have its followers.

  • kevo on August 17, 2011 4:54 PM:

    Perhaps Mr. Perry believes in American Exceptionalism, but his naysaying regarding severe climate change has led me to believe Mr. Perry has a view of my nation that relegates it to just another dimwitted enterprize working for ebullient ignorance - such a blissful state, but not very real, and seemingly being protected by the likes of Perry's gibberish!

    But then again, if he wants to win,
    he's gotta keep trying to get a corner
    on that block of
    low-information-American-voters! -Kevo

  • blondie on August 17, 2011 4:55 PM:

    I was just in my car listening to NPR. At the top of the hour during the news summary, first they did a quick story on Perry's denial of climate change - followed immediately by a story on the incredibly severe drought in Texas.

    I laughed so hard I had to pull the car over and catch my breath!

  • karen on August 17, 2011 4:56 PM:

    In order to hold onto a belief in the literal truth of the Bible, you have to abandon not only science, but reason. Perhaps that is the source of the problem.

  • zandru on August 17, 2011 5:01 PM:

    "The American people are looking for someone who lives in reality and is a truth teller because that�s the only way that the significant problems this country faces can be solved."

    How I wish a DEMOCRAT had said this! It's not too late. In fact, Gov. Good-Hair provides an excellent opportunity for Democrats to start reminding Americans that there is such a thing as objective "reality", and the GOP ain't there.

    The "truth-teller" part is also good. Folks can get downright UGLY when they learn they've been lied to. Especially them good ol' boys in Tejas.

    The reactionary right has built up a butt-load of bad karma. Let's help the Democrats cash in!

  • Kathryn on August 17, 2011 5:11 PM:

    Greedy scientists, funny I don't think of exorbitant wealth in the scientific community. Rick must have them confused with oil executives and hedge fund managers, otherwise known as his base. How did that mass prayer for rain work out Rick, by the way, should have had some action by now?

  • Jim Pharo on August 17, 2011 5:12 PM:

    Is this the same Weaver who helped steer John McCain over a cliff? This is pretty good evidence that he is so out of touch with politics that it points to Huntsman being pretty far detached as well...

  • Danp on August 17, 2011 5:13 PM:

    Just 13.7 percent were Republicans.

    What would that number be if not for the Koch brothers?

  • delNorte on August 17, 2011 5:18 PM:

    "We're not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party"? John Weaver, that's a battle you've already lost.

    I wonder if the Hunstman campaign has already thrown in the towel and is simply trying to right the Republican ship. Too late for that, methinks...

    And I wonder how much of this is simply an extension of the anti-Obama rhetoric - Obama comes off as a bit of an intellectual nerd, cool as a scientist - so intelligence and science are therefore untrustworthy and bad - an elite wing of socialism.

  • Texas Aggie on August 17, 2011 5:18 PM:

    Yesterday I saw an article on Goodhair's denialism that included a letter from every university dept of meteorology or the equivalent in TX. The signatures included maybe a couple dozen A&M professors. In essence the letter said that Goodhair had no idea of what he was talking about and the science for global warming was as sound as it gets. In the comment section there was a denier who was taking a beating from everyone else, but he admitted that Democrats were strongly represented among the scientific community and attributed it to the "fact" that scientists were parasites on society and therefore were self-interested in the Democratic Party.

    It never occurred to him that when the republicans are so into faith as opposed to facts and data, that people who are reality based will eventually leave the republicans. There is no room for them in the republican party.

    I vaguely remember seeing a survey that showed of academics in science, only engineering had a significant number of republicans. The life sciences and the experimental sciences were strongly Democratic.

  • DJ on August 17, 2011 5:18 PM:

    How I wish a DEMOCRAT had said this! It's not too late.

    Patience, Grasshopper. There is a season for everything.

  • T2 on August 17, 2011 5:21 PM:

    firstly, Huntsman is no longer in the race, so no need to hear from his "camp" on this or anything.
    Secondly, the Evangelical Wing of the GOP/TP believes that man's work is folly and God is the only source of reality. That's it. And the Evangelical WIng is what keeps the GOP/TP afloat. Couple that with GOP Big Corporate that doesn't want to spend any money on clean air, emissions, and all that. That means "science" is bad. Unless, of course, it puts money in their pocket somehow...then it's "God's Will".

  • kanopsis on August 17, 2011 5:32 PM:

    In the Bush/Cheney era, there was an effective war on science, in which scientific research was either rejected or manipulated to suit political ends. The integrity of the scientific process itself came under attack, to the delight of the party and its base.

    What T2 said above. Science bashing is only used for keeping the base in line. You can bet that Cheney and his cronies in the oil companies and haliburton use science to hunt for oil. I can't imagine them standing around in a prayer circle trying to figure out where to drill. Science is only bad when it doesn't benefit them.

  • John on August 17, 2011 6:00 PM:

    This is a great topic I'd like to learn more about. If we were Vulcans we'd be reality based as a matter of course. Being human we live in a psychological abstract, a world of illusions and emotions. Look at all the gamblers going to Vegas thinking they can beat the odds, or backyard inventors trying to make perpetual motion machines. Science is a relatively new development in our history.

    Republicans are not interested in governing effectively so they have little use for science in their politics. For them any narrative that gets votes is a good one. Science is a useful tool for building fancy cars and such. Reality is too restrictive in their politics.

  • Mitch on August 17, 2011 6:28 PM:


    You are correct. Oil companies employ many paleontologists/evolutionary biologists in order to find oil/coal reserves. They look for micro-fossils from specific species that lived during the Carboniferous period, for example, when looking for coal seams.

    As for the Republican War on Science (a great book by Chris Mooney by that title exists, everyone should read it) it is not just that they deny science, but that they are so smug and condescending about it. Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes me rage like discussing science with a conservative.

  • exlibra on August 17, 2011 6:30 PM:

    Increasingly, the parties are divided over expertise — with much more of it residing among liberals and Democrats [...] -- Chris Mooney, via Steve Benen

    And that's exactly where the "liberal media" meme has started, long, long ago. The media looked for experts to talk about this or that subject. And where were those experts to be found? Among dem dam libruls...

    "Colonial lictorts". Yes, well... modern day ones, too.

  • Robert Waldmann on August 17, 2011 7:30 PM:

    I'd like to know the cross tab of discipline and party affiliation. I am a professor but not a natural scientist (I blush to admit that I am an economist -- we're getting more scientific really we are).

    I'd be interested in natural science, humanities, engineering (I think that's where the Republicans are) law and OK human sciences.

  • yellowdog on August 17, 2011 7:32 PM:

    Excellent comment - The intellectual backing for supply-siders and knee-jerk tax-cutters is, ahem, a little light. There are a few economists who believe this line, but their paychecks come from Cato, Heritage, or Koch, or Koch-funded university positions. Much of what passes as intellectually grounded on the right is just as bogus and feather-brained as denial of global warming. You lose nothing in right-wing circles by using phony arguments or bad data. In fact, if you are called on it, it just gives you a little more credibility in that realm, since the "liberal elites" were picking on you.

  • troglodyte on August 17, 2011 8:07 PM:

    Huntsman regrets raising his hand for the 10:1 spending-cut/revenue-hike question. It was his best chance to distinguish himself from the crowd. Now he has to take Perry down to get the same amount of attention within the GOP. His campaign is viable in 2012 only if the extreme wingnut right is discredited and Romney slips, but if we dont elect a Repub in 2012 his moderate positions will place him well for 2016. Its the long game, I think, that is Huntsman's best shot.

  • golack on August 17, 2011 8:28 PM:

    Yeah, the Renaissance was over rated. And who needs an "Age of Enlightenment"

    The Dark Ages were good enough for my ancestors, they should be fine for us now....

  • mike reilly on August 18, 2011 12:23 AM:

    You heard it first here...

    Jon Huntsman, the Bill Clinton for 2016

    After the deluge in 2012, he'll be the centrist for the NEW Republican Party.

  • Mary on August 18, 2011 3:14 AM:

    Yeah, those greedy climate scientists are livin' LARGE! Just like all those abortion doctors who only went into the practice because of all the money they could make. I know some people who need to work at not becoming the anti-logic party.

  • Banes on August 22, 2011 1:15 AM:

    The US went to the moon six times. The republican position in the intellectual discourse of this country precludes their participation in any serious discussion of science.

  • Banes on August 22, 2011 1:26 AM:

    What does anyone think about a young republican expressing their ignorance about the US landing six times on the moon? We have a serious problem, yes?